By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA (Reuters) – The United States will respect Brazil’s maritime claims, including offshore oil reserves, and will use a new naval fleet in Latin America mostly for peaceful purposes, the U.S. commander for the region said on Thursday. The head of Brazil’s oil market regulator had said on Wednesday he was worried the United States might contest the country’s rights over huge oil reserves lying in a so-called exclusive economic zone. “The United States will respect the territorial seas and exclusive economic zones of nations of the world,” Adm. James Stavridis, head of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters in Brasilia when asked about Brazil’s concern.
The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the United States has signed but not ratified, says coastal states have exclusive economic zones extending 200 nautical miles, where they enjoy exclusive rights over all natural resources. The U.S. Fourth Fleet, which the Navy is re-establishing 58 years after decommissioning it, will help combat drug trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean, Stavridis said at the end of a defense conference. But this did not indicate an upsurge in counter-narcotics operations, Stavridis said. “It is not an offensive force in any way,” he said.
Acknowledging the fleet had been “a subject of concern” in the region, the admiral said it would mainly support peacekeeping missions, aid in natural disasters, provide humanitarian relief and take part in naval exercises. “The largest ship that will work for the Fourth Fleet is a hospital ship,” Stavridis said. Brazil is not concerned about the new fleet, Brazilian Adm. Marcos Martins Torres said.