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ASEAN-U.S. defense chiefs meet in Cambodia to strengthen military ties

SIEM REAP, Cambodia, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) — The Defense Ministers of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States’ Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta met informally here on Friday afternoon to discuss ways to strengthen military ties.

The ASEAN Defense Ministers were led by Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Tea Banh.

Speaking in a press briefing after the consultative meeting, Panetta said that both sides had exchanged views on regional and international security issues.

He said his three-nation trip to the Asia-Pacific, namely Australia, Thailand and Cambodia, was to reflect the commitment of the United States to the Asia-Pacific rebalance.

He said the U.S. military has been working with friends, partners and allies in the Asia-Pacific region for over 70 years.

“Americans have fought and died in this region and our goal has always been to try to promote peace and prosperity throughout this region,” he said. “We are deepening our military engagement with our allies and partners in this region in order to ensure that we are able to promote security and prosperity for many years to come.”

The U.S.’ increase in military engagement in the region is a part of the U.S. effort to rebalance, according to him.

“This effort includes not just military, but diplomatic, economic and cultural engagement across the region,” he said.

Panetta also reaffirmed the importance of ASEAN unity for building regional stability, saying that the U.S. supports ASEAN- led defense cooperation in a number of critical areas to the region including humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, maritime security, non-proliferation, and counterterrorism.

“We are committed to further strengthening the U.S.-ASEAN relationship and the United States will increase the size and number of the exercises that we will participate in the Asia- Pacific for the Southeast Asia partners, and we are devoting new funding to this goal,” he said.

He said the U.S. is looking forward to participating in 3 ADMM Plus (ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus) exercises in 2013 including a humanitarian and disaster relief exercise in Brunei, a counterterrorism exercise in Indonesia, co-sponsored by the U.S. and Indonesia, and a maritime security exercise, co-chaired by Malaysia and Australia.

Meanwhile, Tea Banh said that ASEAN was pleased to cooperate with all parties, especially with the powerful countries, in order to ensure solid peace, security and prosperity in the region.

Panetta paid a one-day visit to Cambodia and met with the ASEAN Defense Ministers just days ahead of a visit by the U.S. President Barack Obama to the country next Monday.

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