NEW YORK Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday he is "cautiously optimistic" that his government can reach a peace deal with Marxist rebels.
In New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, Santos said he wants to return to the city next year and announce that his conflict-battered country has signed a peace agreement.
Peace negotiations are set to begin with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in Norway next month. In a speech to the Americas Society, Santos said he hope to come back to New York in 2013 and say, "There is peace in Colombia."
"I am optimistic, cautiously optimistic," he said on Wednesday. "I think the conditions are there."
While Santos has not set a deadline for completion of the peace talks, he has said he wants the process to take months, not years.
"If we are successful, imagine what Colombia would look like," Santos said.
Membership in the FARC, which was founded in 1964, has dropped to about 8,000 in recent years. The group is funded mainly by the cocaine trade and extortion and has resorted to recruiting children as support for its Marxist cause has waned.
The FARC is considered a terrorist organization by Washington and the European Union.
(Reporting By Luciana Lopez; Editing by Stacey Joyce)