Sun, Apr 05, 2015 - Page 1 News List

Head of Pentagon set to visit Japan, South Korea

AFP, WASHINGTON

US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is scheduled to travel to Japan and South Korea next week to underscore US President Barack Obama’s commitment to a strategic shift toward Asia, even as crises in the Middle East preoccupy Washington.

Carter embarks on the first of two trips to Asia on Tuesday, stopping in Tokyo and Seoul before meeting the head of the US Pacific Command in Hawaii, officials said.

Next month, Carter is scheduled to return to the region for the annual Shangri-La security conference in Singapore, followed by a visit to India, with which he has worked closely in the past to bolster defense ties.

The two visits in two months to Asia are to “affirm defense relationships with allies and build upon key initiatives of the rebalance to the region,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

However, while Obama has tried to make the Asia-Pacific region a higher priority for US strategy, upheaval across the Middle East — including the rise of Islamic State extremists — has repeatedly diverted his administration’s attention.

Since August last year, the US has led a coalition carrying out air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and last week Obama approved intelligence and logistical support for a Saudi Arabia-led air war in Yemen against Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

Before flying to Japan, Carter is to deliver a speech at Arizona State University in Tempe tomorrow on the US “rebalance” to Asia. Carter, who took office in February, is to stress “the strong link between national security and economic security, and the full-court press the administration will continue to take on the rebalance,” the Pentagon said.

In his visit to Japan, Carter’s talks are to focus on new guidelines for the two countries’ military cooperation, which are expected to be signed later this month, officials said.

The guidelines would set out an expanded role for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, allowing Tokyo’s troops to come to the aid of US forces under attack.

After two days in Tokyo, Carter on Thursday is to head to Seoul, where he will “reiterate” Washington’s strong commitment to South Korea’s security in the face of provocations and threats from the North Korean regime, officials said.

On Saturday, Carter is due to meet top officers at the US military’s Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii.

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