Military News

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Panetta Travels to Asia to Discuss Refocus on Region

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will put meat on the bones of what the refocus on the Asia-Pacific region means to the U.S. military during a week-long trip to Asia that begins today.

Panetta will speak about the new defense strategic guidance with friends and allies, senior defense officials speaking on background told reporters yesterday at the Pentagon.

Panetta will repeat what has become a mantra: that the United States is a Pacific power and will remain one, and that the region’s nations have grown behind the shield of stability and security America has provided in the area, officials said.

This is Panetta’s second trip to the region since taking office. “The core of what we’re trying to do in this swing through Asia is give a comprehensive account to everyone in the region about what the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific [region] will mean in practice,” one senior defense official said.

The secretary will meet with Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, at Pacom’s headquarters in Honolulu. He then will fly to Singapore, where he will present a policy speech on the strategic guidance at the 10th annual “Shangri-La Dialogue,” an annual Asian security conference.

During the conference, the official said, Panetta will have a chance for individual meetings with some of his counterparts. The list of those meetings had yet to be finalized, the official said yesterday, but he added that he anticipates a robust meeting schedule.

Panetta would welcome meetings with Chinese counterparts at the dialogue, but it was unclear whether that would be possible, the official said. Meetings with defense officials from Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and other nations are scheduled, officials said.

From Singapore, the secretary will journey to Vietnam.

“We’ve had a really good trajectory with Vietnam over a number of years,” the official said. “This is a great opportunity to mark the signing last year of a [memorandum of understanding] with Vietnam on defense cooperation.”

The secretary will work with Vietnamese officials to discuss how the two countries can continue strengthening military-to-military ties. He also will thank the Vietnamese for assistance in finding and recovering the remains of Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War, the official said.

Panetta then will fly to Delhi, India, and meet with a host of Indian officials. “The secretary has been eager to visit India since assuming his post last summer,” the official said. “U.S.-India defense ties are extremely important in a whole host of ways. Strategically, we see India as a partner with whom we have a lot of common interests and a lot of areas where we can work well together.”

The secretary will also discuss defense trade with Indian leaders, as well as the implications of the strategic guidance for U.S.-Indian military-to-military relations, the outcome of the NATO summit, and long-term trends in South Asia and the rest of the region, the official said.

“We’re trying to have a relationship with India that is broad, strategic and continual,” the official said. “With India, we are getting to a place where this type of interaction is just part of the norm of the relationship, where we engage on a whole range of issues -- strategic issues, cooperative issues and a whole range of cooperative issues.”

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