O'Neill Plans Trip to Argentina and Brazil

Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill plans to travel this month to Argentina, which is struggling to deal with the worst financial crisis in its history, and Brazil, which has its own set of troubles.

It will be O'Neill's first trip to both countries as treasury secretary.

"He will take this opportunity to meet with the governments of both countries on their economic direction and prospects," the Treasury Department said Friday.

Details haven't been worked out.

The crisis in Argentina deepened when the International Monetary Fund -- backed by the Bush administration -- refused to provide further loans to Argentina last December, forcing the country to default on $141 billion in foreign debt.

However, with the troubles in Argentina beginning to send shock waves through other Latin American countries, the IMF has moved in recent weeks to bolster its credit lines to other South American nations, including Brazil, where concerns about the outcome of fall elections have caused investor jitters.

Arminio Fraga, the head of Brazil's central bank, met in Washington on Wednesday with O'Neill, who later strongly endorsed that country's economic program.

Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde is hoping to obtain new loans to stabilize the country's economy, but the negotiations have been prolonged by IMF demands for tough reforms in exchange for new money.

During his trip to the two South American countries, O'Neill also will spend time visiting businesses, schools, health clinics, infrastructure projects and grass roots organizations "to develop a better understanding of the real economy, social issues and civil society," the department said.