US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves Friday on a tour of Chile, Indonesia and Australia, to meet Latin American leaders and address Southeast Asian security issues.
In Chile, her first stop, Rice will attend Saturday's inauguration of Michelle Bachelet, the first woman to be elected as Chile's president and a Socialist.
According to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, Rice will take advantage of the occasion to talk with some of the 30 Latin, African and European leaders who will also attend the ceremony in Valparaiso, 120 kilometers (68 miles) west of Santiago.
There, Rice will meet for the first time newly-elected Bolivian President Evo Morales, the first native person to head the South American state.
Morales is also a socialist as well as a leader of coca farmers, who stronly oppose US drug control policies in the Andean state.
"We hope to have good relations with Bolivia," Rice told a US congressional panel Thursday.
"The United States has no problem with governments being elected that are left or center or dealing with governments that are left or center," Rice, a key member of US President George W. Bush's conservative government, said.
She told a group of Latin American journalists, however, that she has no plans to meet with leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who regularly trades verbal barbs with the Bush administration.
Rice had planned to travel to Peru on Sunday, but canceled the visit in light of President Alejandro Toledo's planned trip to Washington this coming weekend where he will meet Bush at the White House.
Rice will stay over in Chile before jetting across the Pacific to Jakarta, for her first visit as secretary of state to Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.
There, she will discuss the "war on terror", building democracy and regional security.
Bilateral relations, which have been strained in the past over the situation in East Timor, improved after the massive US aid effort to survivors of the December 2004 tsunami, which killed 168,000 Indonesians.
After a White House summit in May, Bush and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed to closer military cooperation.
The top US diplomat will also visit Australia for the first time as secretary of state, and will hold strategy meetings with her counterparts in Australia and Japan.
The visits to Indonesia and Australia had been planned for January, but Rice moved them back after a stroke incapacitated Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.
(Chinadaily.com via agencies March 10, 2006)