Panetta Heads to Japan After ASEAN Defense Parley

Posted October 24th, 2011 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived Monday in Japan after telling his Asian counterparts that coming budget cuts will not lead the United States to reduce its presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Panetta flew Monday from the Indonesian resort island of Bali, where he had attended a meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers. Before leaving Indonesia, he met with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

He told his fellow ministers late Sunday that the Pacific region will remain a key priority for the United States in spite of reports of a fierce budget debate in Washington.

Panetta also said he appreciated China's restrained reaction to a recent $5.85 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, including an upgrade of its fleet of F-16 jet fighters.

He said China has handled the decision in a “professional and diplomatic way,” possibly because it was given advance notice of the decision. He said he will continue to work for better military-to-military relations with China.

Panetta is making his first visit to Asia since he moved from CIA director to defense secretary in July. Earlier Sunday in Indonesia, he met with senior officials and agreed to help the country upgrade some of its military equipment.

Panetta concludes his trip with stops in Japan and South Korea, where he is expected to discuss diplomatic efforts to achieve a resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. He will also talk to officials about plans to move a controversial air base on Okinawa.