The United States on Monday congratulated Colombia’s new president-elect Juan Manuel Santos and said it was “pleased” with the election of the conservative who is expected to continue the policies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe.

P.J. Crowley, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, praised the “spirited debate” before Sunday’s runoff and Colombia’s “longstanding commitment to democratic principles.” Mr. Crowley dismissed the suggestion that Mr. Santos’ intention to improve relationships with neighbouring Venezuela could drive a wedge between close U.S.-Colombia ties. Venezuela has been critical of Bogota’s close relationship with Washington.

“We wish him luck with that,” Mr. Crowley said.

Mr. Santos, a former defence minister who led the Uribe government’s military hard line against the Marxist rebels who have waged a five - decade civil war, won 69 per cent of the run-off vote against Antanas Mockus, a former Bogota mayor who had finished a distant second in the first-round vote.

It was the biggest election victory for a president in Colombia’s democratic history.

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