June 11, 2009 / 3:03 PM / 10 years ago

Obama seeks improved ties with Ecuador's Correa

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa smiles during a news conference at the presidential house in Tegucigalpa May 31, 2009. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has told Ecuador’s socialist President Rafael Correa he wants better relations, which have been strained since Ecuador charged U.S. diplomats of meddling in its affairs this year.

Obama phoned Correa, an ally of anti-U.S. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on Wednesday for what the White House said was a congratulatory call for his April re-election and to commend Ecuadoreans for their “commitment to democracy.”

“The president stated his desire to deepen our bilateral relationship and to maintain an ongoing dialogue that can ensure a productive relationship based on mutual respect,” the White House said on Thursday.

Correa, popular for standing up to foreign oil companies and debt holders in one of South America’s poorest countries, is part of a bloc of leftist Latin American leaders headed by Chavez, a harsh critic of U.S. policies and especially of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

Correa, a U.S.-educated economist, had kept generally good ties between his OPEC nation and the United States. But tensions rose in February when Ecuador expelled two U.S. diplomats in a dispute over an aid program. Ecuador accused them of meddling, charges Washington rejected.

Obama, who took office in January, sought to mend fences with Latin American neighbors at a hemispheric conference in Trinidad in April.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Alan Elsner

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