Peace deal in reach, Obama says US to help Colombia rebuild

Nudging Colombia toward a peace deal that's finally within reach, President Barack Obama committed the United States on Thursday to helping the battle-scarred nation rebuild after half a century of guerrilla war.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos came to the White House on the verge of a historic truce with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that promises to end Latin America's longest-running armed conflict. Facing the daunting task of reconstruction, Santos secured promises of financial help from Obama, who said the U.S. "will be your partner in waging peace."

"In short, a country that was on the brink of collapse is now on the brink of peace," Obama said in the East Room. "In Colombia today, there is hope."

Obama said he planned to ask Congress for some $450 million in U.S. assistance for Colombia in his final budget, acceding to Santos' request that the U.S. increase its aid to the country this year. He announced that the 15-year-old Plan Colombia would be replaced by a new U.S. program called Peace Colombia, aimed at helping the nation reintegrate FARC members into society and expand the government's reach into areas that had long been ceded to the guerrilla group.

"We all know that it's easier to start wars than to end them, but after half a century of wrenching conflict, the time has come for peace," Obama said.