2014-04-23T213633Z_1_CBREA3M1O1500_RTROPTP_2_USA

Hagel begins first trip to Latin America as U.S. defense chief

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hands out commander coins before leaving Pope Army Airfield in Fort Bragg, North CarolinaBy David Alexander ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday his first trip to Latin America as Pentagon chief would add “muscle and sinew” to growing North American defense ties and highlight the importance of helping partner nations improve their militaries. Hagel, who will meet his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in Mexico City before traveling to Guatemala, said the three-day visit will give him an opportunity to focus on relationship-building in a vital area that often receives little attention. “The region is important to America,” Hagel told reporters aboard his plane to Mexico City. “I don’t think over the years we’ve probably ever done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners.” He said part of the reason was that U.S. relations in the region have been stable and good in recent years, so Washington has tended to focus its attention on the world’s trouble spots.

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