Rubio Denies Role In Secret Trump-Colombia Meeting

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida Sen. Marco Rubio denies arranging what has been described as a “secret meeting” between President Donald Trump and two former presidents of Colombia.

“No,” Rubio told CBS4 News Miami. “I didn’t have anything to do with that meeting.”

The informal summit between Trump and former Colombian presidents Álvaro Uribe and Andrés Pastrana took place last weekend at Trump’s private resort, Mar-a-Lago.

President Trump’s official schedule made no mention of the meeting, nor was it disclosed to reporters who had traveled with him to Palm Beach.

News of the encounter has created concern the Trump Administration may come out against Colombia’s controversial peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, commonly known as the FARC. It also raised questions of diplomatic protocol, since both Uribe and Pastrana are critics of Colombia’s current leader, President Juan Manuel Santos.

Trump is expected to meet Santos for the first time next month.

Amid all of the intrigue this week surrounding the meeting, Colombian media has been reporting the Mar-a-Lago tête-à-tête was set up by Rubio, a critic of the FARC peace agreement. Rubio’s office had declined to comment.

However, in an interview scheduled to air Sunday on CBS Miami’s Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede, Rubio said the reports of his involvement were simply wrong.

“I’m a big fan of President Uribe,” Rubio said. “I didn’t even know he was in Florida. And beyond it, I would say to you, I don’t see what the problem is. But my understanding is it wasn’t even a meeting. My understanding is that President Uribe and the former President [Pastrana] happened to head over to the Mar-a-Lago and bump into the president while he was there. But I didn’t even know President Uribe would be in Florida.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer at first declined to answer questions about the meeting.

“I don’t have anything for you at this time,” said Spicer on Wednesday.

The White House later confirmed the meeting to The Miami Herald but reportedly downplayed it saying it was a coincidence that both former leaders were at the club.

“They were there with a member from the club and briefly said hello when the president walked past them,” spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told The Herald. “There wasn’t anything beyond a quick hello.”

The Twitter account of former Colombian President Pastrana, however, left a decidedly different impression.

“Thank you for the cordial and very frank conversation regarding problems and perspectives in Colombia and the region,” Pastrana tweeted over the weekend.

When Santos, Colombia’s current president, lands in Washington he is expected to urge Trump to support not only the peace accord but $450 million in foreign aid pledged to Colombia by former President Barack Obama. The money is critical to bolster the peace accord and help end the region’s longest armed conflict.

In his interview with CBS Miami, Rubio was asked if he opposed the $450 million in aid to Colombia or if he was urging President Trump to block it.

“No, on the contrary, I’m in favor of it,” Rubio said. “I’m in favor of Plan Colombia. The decision on whether or not to do a deal with the FARC belongs to the Colombian people. They had a referendum. They voted against it. President Santos went into a different direction, got it implemented. They are going to have elections in Colombia in a year. They are going to choose a new President and that’s up to them. That’s a democracy and a sovereign country.”

But then Rubio appeared to start setting certain conditions, which could undermine aspects of the aid and the peace accord.

“My only argument is we’re not going to spend any of our money supporting the FARC,” he said. “That’s what I’m against. I’m not in favor of any money going toward support for the FARC. I’m not in favor of our money going towards creating these criminal courts where Colombians, who were out there pursuing the drug war alongside the United States, are now being put on trial for having worked with us to wipe out these criminal elements.”

Rubio continued: “We’re not going to accept these FARC terrorists who have committed crimes and killed and harmed Americans travelling to the United States on diplomatic visas because they got some seat in the Congress. And we are not going to be releasing Simon Trinidad, a FARC commander in jail, convicted in the United States, as some sort of an interchange. As far as doing a deal or not, that’s up to the Colombian people.”

(©2017 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald and its parent company, McClatchy, contributed material for this report.)

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