US, Philippines reach troop agreement

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The U.S. has reached a 10-year deal with the Philippines allowing a bulked-up U.S. military presence with expanded access to the Southeast Asian nation's bases, White House officials said Sunday.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement is expected to give American troops temporary, but enhanced rotational access to military camps in the Philippines.

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U.S. forces will be able to train and exercise with the Philippine military, and be prepositioned to help on a range of missions including disaster relief, maritime security, and countering transnational crime and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, said Evan Medeiros, senior director of Asian affairs for the White House National Security Council.

The size and duration of rotational stays were not specified as details are still being worked out, Medeiros told reporters on Sunday.

The agreement is expected to be signed on Monday at a main military facility in Manila. U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines Phil Goldberg will sign the deal before President Obama arrives on the last leg of his four-country Asian tour.

The accord is the most significant defense agreement the two countries have reached in decades. Medeiros said, making it a key milestone in the U.S.-Philippines relationship. The deal comes at a time when the Philippines is struggling to boost its territorial defense amid increasingly assertive behavior from China in the South China Sea.

While Medeiros wouldn't say the deal was struck on account of China, he did said the U.S. position on actions in the South China Sea are clear.

"We oppose the use of intimidation, coercion, or aggression by any state to advance their maritime territorial claims, he said.

Instead, one of the catalysts for the deal came out of the Philippines struggle to respond and rebuild after Typhoon Yolanda hit the nation in 2013.

During the typhoon, the U.S. was able to reach affected areas more effectively than other countries, Medeiros said, which gave "momentum" to the agreement later.

Additional questions have been raised as to whether the new deal is a move toward the reopening of U.S. bases in the Philippines, an idea  Obama was eager to squash during an interview with the Filipino ABS-CBN News on Sunday.

"I want to be absolutely clear—the new defense cooperation agreement that we are negotiating is not about trying to reclaim old bases or build new bases," Obama said. "Rather, any new agreement would give American service members greater access to Filipino facilities, airfields and ports, which would remain under the control of the Philippines."

The White House also strongly reiterated that the president is focused on the U.S. rebalance toward the Asia Pacific, despite reports that the new round of sanctions against Russia seemed to be overshadowing the president's trip.

"I think it speaks to the emphasis that we have put on the alliance with the Philippines and also Southeast Asia more generally as a focal point," said Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser.

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