LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales called for an about-face in relations with Washington on Thursday, saying past diplomatic spats can be overcome if the new U.S. government refrains from meddling in Bolivian affairs.
Morales met with U.S. envoy Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who said their talks were a "good start" toward improving ties.
Morales urged the U.S. not to interfere in Bolivian domestic matters, as he often claims it does, and said the nations must treat each other with "mutual respect." His government has expressed hope for improved ties under President Barack Obama, although Morales last month said he still believes Washington is conspiring against him.
The leftist leader, a close ally of Venezuela and Cuba, also said U.S. aid should go to his government rather than to the private groups he claims are working to oust him.
U.S.-Bolivian relations frayed last year when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador to La Paz, claiming the diplomat had conspired with his opponents to incite violence. He also suspended cooperation with U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, accusing them of espionage and funding "criminal groups" trying to undermine his government.
U.S. officials denied the charges, and former President George W. Bush's administration booted Bolivia's envoy to Washington, suspended trade preferences and added Bolivia to its anti-narcotics blacklist.
Though little concrete progress was made after two days of meetings, talks helped reset the tone to pursue a new relationship, officials on both sides said.
Bolivia will not welcome the DEA in its territory, but it does acknowledge the anti-drug fight as a shared responsibility, Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana said after meeting with Shannon later Thursday.
Shannon acknowledged that persisting differences will require "creative diplomacy," but said the U.S. hopes "to have relations of equality with all the countries of Latin America."
"We've found the Bolivian government very willing and deeply interested in building a new stage in relations," he said.
Shannon declined to comment on a report he would be named the next U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, saying the decision rests with the American president and the White House has not announced an appointment.