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June 23, 2017

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Philippines to sign defense pact for greater US military presence

MANILA--The Philippines and the United States announced they would sign an agreement on Monday to allow a greater U.S. military presence on Filipino soil for the next decade.

The deal will be signed in Manila a few hours before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to arrive for a two-day visit to the Philippines, one of the United States' most loyal but militarily weakest Asian allies which is embroiled in an increasingly hostile territorial row with China.

U.S. officials in Malaysia traveling with Obama said on Sunday the agreement would be inked between the two nations, which are already bound by a pact to come to each other's aid if attacked and engage in regular war games together.

Evan Medeiros, senior director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, said the deal was a "skeletal and muscular" framework that would allow the two sides to discuss more rotations of U.S. troops, naval visits and training exercises.

He said it was "the most significant agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades."

It is also another part of Obama's much publicized strategic and military "pivot" to Asia.

U.S. officials said the exact composition of U.S. forces to be rotated through the Philippines remained to be worked out.

"The scope, the duration and the location of our rotational presence in the Philippines is something that we are going to be working out with them in the coming weeks and years," said Medeiros.

But U.S. officials said the agreement would last for 10 years, with provision for renewal. They said it would be signed by the Philippine Minister of Defense and U.S. ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg.

The Philippine government released a short statement on Sunday saying the agreement would be signed, without giving details.

But Filipino negotiators had previously said it would allow more U.S. troops, aircraft, and ships to pass through the country.

It would also allow the United States to store equipment that could be used to mobilize American forces faster — particularly in cases of natural disasters.

The deal would not allow Washington to establish a permanent base or bring in nuclear weapons, according to the Filipino negotiators.

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